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   Case summaries      Alphacell Ltd v Woodward

Alphacell Ltd v Woodward [1972] AC 824

The appellant factory owner was convicted of causing polluted matter to enter a river under the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act 1951. The offence related to an underground pipe which had become disconnected due to a blockage. The appellant was unaware of the pollution and it was not alleged that they had been negligent.


As a matter of public policy the offence was one of strict liability and therefore the appeal was dismissed and the conviction upheld.

Lord Salmon:

"If this appeal succeeded and it were held to be the law that no conviction be obtained under the 1951 Act unless the prosecution could discharge the often impossible onus of proving that the pollution was caused intentionally or negligently, a great deal of pollution would go unpunished and undeterred to the relief of many riparian factory owners. As a result, many rivers which are now filthy would become filthier still and many rivers which are now clean would lose their cleanliness. The legislature no doubt recognised that as a matter of public policy this would be most unfortunate. Hence s2(1)(a) which encourages riparian factory owners not only to take reasonable steps to prevent pollution but to do everything possible to ensure that they do not cause it."
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